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European paddlers hope to see non-Chinese world champions

05-12-2011 10:08 BJT

ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The world are mulling over the way to break China's stranglehold on table tennis as legend Jan-Ove Waldner, Bettine Vriesekoop, Timo Boll and Jorgen Persson called for non-Chinese champions to help promote the sport.

China looked poised to make another sweep of the golds for the consecutive fourth time at the ongoing World Championships as they suffered only one loss through Yan An/Feng Yalan in the mixed doubles midway though the tournament.

Their ace players Wang Hao, Ma Lin, Ma Long, Li Xiaoxia, Liu Shiwen, Ding Ning and Guo Yue, all world champions, qualified forcefully for the final 16.

It would be good for the sport if some non-Chinese players could win the titles at the championships in Rotterdam, said Waldner, the individual world champion in 1989 and 1997 who enjoys high esteem even in China.

"The sports needs a world champion from another country," the Swede said.

"It will also be good for China. It's the same like in other sports. You need to have different players on top like in tennis, with (Rafal) Nadal, (Roger) Federer and (Novak) Djokovic.

"The level of the current tournament is good, but the problem is that the Chinese are too good," he said.

"At the time I was playing there were many players from different countries, not only from Sweden. Now Europe is not so strong in table tennis as Asia, or especially China. We like to do many other sports like football. At the moment table tennis is not big, only in Germany the level is good. At the moment the top players in Europe are older and the new players are not coming, only from Germany. We need some more. I don't see any youngsters at the moment who can threaten the Chinese," he said.

Germany's Timo Boll, currently world No. 2, agreed with Waldner that it would be good for the sport to have a different world champion.

"The last few years were a little boring in the end with only Chinese playing in the finals. It would also be more interesting for the Chinese to get a world champion from another country," he said.

"We will do our best, but the Chinese are the best players in the world. They do not just have one good player, but seven of them and all are able to win the championships. Not just one or two, but seven," he said.

One of the contestants at the WTTC in Rotterdam knows how to beat the Chinese and become world champion. Jorgen Persson, who went out in the second round on Wednesday, was the best of the world 10 years ago.

"The Chinese were good at the time I became champion and they are good now," he said. "They developed themselves and are absolute the best in the world at the moment. They also developed the game a lot and that's the reason why they are the No. 1."

"They are so strong in all parts. So hopefully it will be possible to beat them. You have to believe, like we did with Sweden in the 1980s. That's also important for Europe, to think that they are beatable," he said.

Bettine Vriesekoop, European champion in 1982 and 1992 who was able to beat some Chinese players in her career, has a clear explanation for China's dominance.

"European table tennis players simply practice too little," the 49-year-old said. "The Chinese are training daily for five to seven hours at the age of six or seven already. They continue doing so until they turn 20. They can be very strict in selecting players because they have so many who are willing to train that many hours."

According to Waldner and Persson, the European table tennis players should practice more often together. "I think they have to practice better and practice more together, every month in training camps," Waldner said.

"In China they practice with the top players all the time. You also need this in Europe. When I was young I was there a lot, at the age of 14 I was in China for a month. It's good to practice there."

"They have so many good players and those best players practice against each other. If the No. 4 of the world is not available, a Chinese player can practice against the No. 6, 7 or 8. That's the reason why they are so good. Also because table tennis is the national sport in China," he said.

"At the moment the gap between China and Europe is big," Persson added. "The gap is increasing. Hopefully the young players will come, but Europe has to be more cooperative. We have a lot of players in each country, but you have to get them together."

"The practice groups of the Chinese are top, the same goes for Japan and Korea. In Europe it is not that good. We have to cooperate more and make training camps like we did for the Olympics. Let' s put the best players together," he said.

Vriesekoop said that such an initiative is already taken with the opening of the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria.

"The best European talents are able to train over there," Vriesekoop said.

"I did not have that advantage. My training partners were not good enough. Therefore I had to go to China and I could only go just a couple of times for one month. In that case I could not systematically beat the Chinese. Considering my circumstances it was a superb achievement beating them sometimes as I did," she said.

A reversal can be seen in the way China looks at its own dominance, according to Vriesekoop.

"China wants to help Europe to save the table tennis sport. They want to come here to help us. The Chinese want to send players and coaches to come here and train our children. They know that if they continue to dominate, people lose their interest in the sport," she said.

"We have to be careful, because table tennis could even disappear from the Olympic calendar. The IOC could demand table tennis to be played on to level in more than a few countries. This could happen if Europe can not compete with China for a longer period. Of course table tennis is still a global sport. They train hard everywhere in the world, but not as hard as the Chinese," she said.

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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